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How Citizen Journalism Changed My Life
One reporter's account of the opportunities writing can offer
Joan Dawson (joanied40)     Print Article 
Published 2009-07-14 11:53 (KST)   
I know that sounds like a corny title, but it's true: Citizen Journalism has changed my life! I signed up with OhmyNews in 2006, although it feels like it's been longer than three years. At the time, I was working as a textbook editor in South Korea. When I expressed my desire to write, everyone told me to look into OhmyNews. So I did.

Since I was active in the local English-speaking Amnesty International club and learning a lot about gender-based violence, I felt compelled to write about it. I had always taken an interest in women's issues and as I learned more and more about the torture, injury and death of young girls and women around the world, I wanted to raise awareness.

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How Citizen Journalism Changed My Life
It didn't take long before my articles were 쏿ttacked by angry men. They called me names, disputed my data and credentials, and left menacing messages in my reporter's box. I grew more and more intrigued as I noticed a pattern in their comments. I went to the web sites they referenced. I found out there were movements like the men's rights movement and the father's rights movement. These guys claimed domestic violence was mutual and that feminists cherry-picked data and that the family court had been쐆ighjacked쓇y feminists. They said men were now the real victims. Many of these guys, I learned, were divorced and had fought custody battles (as well as had charges and convictions of domestic violence, child abuse and failure to pay child support). I found out that many of the web sites they used only provided data on violence towards men but not by men. Rarely, however, did they offer any real constructive help for abused men.

Since the writers on many of these sites attacked the Violence Against Women Act, sought to limit restraining orders, and claimed abuse complaints were really false allegations, mutual or just "conflict", I felt deeply compelled to raise awareness about their aims. Did others know they existed? Were they being countered? Surely, women's organizations, non-violence groups and the like must have been aware of these groups.

I wrote three articles on OhmyNews about the father's rights groups. I was attacked on all three, a tradition with these guys. I was even threatened with a law suit.

But these three articles were the catalysts for the changes that would take place in my life.

First, I was contacted by a professor in the US about writing a chapter on the father's rights movement for a book he was editing on interpersonal violence. As soon as I verified that he wasn셳 a fathers righter trying to trick me, I realized what a great opportunity this was. The book is due out this month.

Second, I've been contacted by readers who were battered women and had lost custody of their children. They wanted me to write about their situation. While I am very committed to this matter, I've never felt like I could give them the justice they deserve. These are such complicated and heart-wrenching stories. In fact, I got a call this year on Mother's Day of all days, from a woman who, despite having evidence, lost custody of her child to a spouse that allegedly sexually abused their little girl. As a social justice advocate, it infuriates me that women aren셳 believed in family court when they raise accusations of abuse, even with evidence. Further, it incenses me that children are the ones who all too often suffer the consequences.

Third, I became involved in the Family Court Reform Coalition. We seek to raise awareness about these issues and reform family courts. Many people, for example, believe family court favors women. Actually, courts hold women to higher standards when it comes to children. Also, women are often not believed when they allege abuse.

Why is that? Well, for one, judges think women are being manipulative, especially if it셲 a woman's first time for claiming abuse. However, for many women, discovering the abuse is what leads to the divorce. Secondly, evidence is given little or no weight. Parent셲 rights, for example, can supersede evidence, in particular when accounts of abuse have not been recent and therefore not considered a threat or when they lack witnesses. Thirdly, abusive men can counter with their own claims; most often they claim that the woman is unstable, she neglects her children or "alienates" them from the father. Finally, battered women can appear nervous or hostile in court, while their batterers often appear more "rational". In courts with "friendly parent" policies, battered women often fair badly. Disturbingly often, batterers get unsupervised visitation, and joint or even sole custody.

From participating in the family court reform movement, I have met some wonderful, passionate and committed people. I have shared in the highs and lows of our pursuit of justice. I have both provided and received support when verbally attacked,professionally maligned, or threatened.

And, lastly, I am working in my current position as a result of my activism and writing. I now work with a domestic violence agency. I even work with men who are allies in this endeavor and want to counter the claims made by men's rights groups to prove they don't speak for all men, because they don셳. And while we don셳 provide direct services at my office, I still get at least one call a week from an abused woman going through family court. My gut wrenches when a woman says it should be a "nobrainer" that a domestic violence survivor gets custody, or worse when she has already lost custody. I tell her, "Sadly, you are not alone." I let her know that we are working on this issue and hope to someday overturn the injustice wrought on battered women and their children.

Yes, my life has really changed ever since writing those initial articles on OhmyNews. I had no idea I would continue with the service, I would make the connections that I have, or that I would continue to write about not only the violence that we deal with as women but the counter attacks to preventing it and getting justice. These attacks have made me an even stronger advocate -- an activist with tougher skin and a fierce desire to see justice served. And I hope I do in this lifetime.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Joan Dawson

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